Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Fabio: Keep it Simple

The winning chef answers our burning questions ... and doesn't hold back about Wylie Dufresne's criticism. First the Quickfire: What was the inspiration behind your dessert?
The inspiration behind my dessert was that this guy is one of the highest representatives of molecular gastronomy in USA, and what I've done is a perfect representation of some "eggs" concept in two different ways and one egg breakfast dish. Now i was the only one trying to go molecular in order to honor the master and I was on the bottom because he told me that I used the same tecnique, which by-the-way he was wrong because, yes, it was spherification but one was the classic recipe and in the eggs in the shell was the reverse one, so, yes, the result was similar but i got two completely different approaches, and also i've done the quail eggs like for Rocco. The next time i will poach again a bullsh-t eggs with some sauteed spinach and some Hollandaise sauce and I'll be again in the top 3, but i'm happy. I am a very happy person; it is very hard to put me out of mood. Did you think you’d be penalized for not making breakfast? Or lauded for using molecular gastronomy?
The problem is that for the whole season the judges are keep asking us to amaze them with incredible food. They have been telling us that playing safe is not going to get us anywhere and they prized poached eggs and roasted chicken. Lately who is winning the challanges has been doing panna cotta, seared scallops, mousse, and grits. With all due respect for those people, how amazing is a panna cotta or a plate of grits. They have to decide where they arestanding because this year it seems like that the more safe you play the further you go. I'm happy I do simple food and this is what is good for me but I dont know how amazing the food is till the end of the competition; all the chefs are playing very safe, and I dont think that he will laugh at me. My tecnique is perfect — there is no room for mistakes in molecular. Onto the Elimination: Would you have preferred to cook for anyone but Lidia?
Lidia is a wonderful woman with a great palate. It was a true plesure to cook for her. I coudn't have been happier ... too funny that I didnt have to cook the bullshit eggs for Dufresne at the end in the Elimination Challange. What would your last meal be?
Steak and pasta, and a bottle of wine. If i have to die after dinner, I want to be a little You really hurt yourself — what happened?
I took a corner and I did fall due to the wet floor and my pinky was dislocated, so it got very swollen and I coud not move my whole hand. The funny part is that I was about to start cooking and I am a professional chef and like I said this is Top Chef not Top Pussy, so I held strong and got the job done! Had you ever hurt yourself that badly in the kitchen before?
I did burn myself really badly three years ago. I accidentally coated my whola hand with caramelized sugar and I had a third-degree burn. I almost lost my hand and after four days I was back to work. I was eating painkiller sfor breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It is what it is; you have to deal with it. Did you have to do anything differently because of your finger just to get the work done?
I got very upset with the f*##*ng potatoes. I could not peel them and they kept falling off my hand, and also butchering the chicken was a mission almost impossible, but I didn't do anything differently. I kept my focus and moved on. How do you think your dish turned out? What would you have done differently?
It was pretty good — a roasted chicken is a roasted chicken. It's been done before and I have to know how get it done but I was very happy with it, and the potatoes were killer. I challange anyone to reply the potatoes of my grandma. What did you think of the other dishes?
I did not have much time to check the other dishes. I was behind with mine so I did not really pay attention to what was going on with the other What was it like cooking for such culinary legends?
It was a true pleasure to see that such culinary legends are asking for down-to-heart food, no foo-foo, no complex things, no high-end presentation. Top Chef is about somebody that can be consistently good over the years and it is too bad that people are being judged over a single dish. And I don't care about what people think of how simple or safe is the food that I do. In the last 6 months of 2008 my restaurant did over a 38% more in profit respect to the last 6 months of 2007, and this means that with this bad economy, when all the other restaurants are losing money and closing down with their fancy food and fancy chefs, my restaurant is getting stronger than ever … how about that??? I am opening three more restaurants in 2009 while all the fancy restaurants that are doing fancy food are closing down. You have no idea how many "fancy" chefs from Los Angeles restaurants are applying for jobs at my restaurant. That is a good problem to have. Simple delicious food is what i do for a living and in my place I give you a fine experience for a fraction of the price. Now you can say anything you want about my food — it is too simple, boring, not refined — I dont care. You can keep your opinion and good luck with that!!! Were you surprised about who went home? Do you think the right person went home?
I think that Leah was over the show. She is a very talented chef but she has no passion for being in TV or this kind of pressure/ She is a great chef and she belongs to a kitchen. She loves what she does and I will work with her anytime, anyday, but for what concerned the competition she was over. She just let things happen and that's it. I wish her the best. She is really talented and i love her.

Richard: "Gregory Had the Better Ideas"

Richard Blais explains why Mei Lin won, and why we'll definitely be hearing from Gregory Gourdet soon.

The finale of Top Chef is the one absolute every season. Make the best meal of your life, in a multi-course tasting format for a room of the "who's who" in the culinary industry.

If you get to the finals, it's the type of thing you can prepare for. Every finalist should have a few four to five course menus floating around their heads, including a dessert, and all complete with options and Plan B's transcribed to their moleskins. And although the knowledge of what's coming is helpful, the format does not play to every chef's strengths.

There aren't too many restaurants committed to such meal services. Which means less chefs experienced with how to "write" and execute them. A progressive meal has to have a certain flow about it. And even the stereotypical versions of the "menu degustation" could force a contestant into cooking a dish that's not in their wheelhouse, for instance a straight forward fish course because "it belongs there."

Tonight, Mei Lin has a slight advantage. She cooks in a restaurant every day that showcases a tasting menu. Her food has been the epitome of a modern tasting menu all season. Many previous times, to a fault. Mei's food is small and precise. Beautiful to look at, and intellectually stimulating to discuss. Cold sometimes, every once in a while a shaved radish plated with tweezers heavy. It's not for everyone. It's not for everyday. But it's the type of food that when done well, can win Top Chef. Win James Beard Award noms. Win Best New Chef honors. Win Michelin stars.

Her future could indeed be bright.

What struck me most about Mei's food tonight however, wasn't technique. Technique and presentation often can get in the way of flavor. But tonight Mei delivered a few courses that were deeply satisfying. Soulful, delicious food that also was presented at a high level and cooked with surgeon's precision. That congee though...combined with a simple dessert that took yogurt and granola to another planet, won her the day. Her other two courses were fine, but suffered from the strains of modernity. Overly plated (the duck) and technically overwrought (the fried octopus).

Gregory on the other hand, it's just not his finest work. You can hear it in his voice as he's explaining his food. He's cooking improv, an ode to Mexico. The problem is, this isn't a jam session at a local cantina. This is a studio session where the chefs should be cooking practiced and refined pieces.

His octopus was a highlight and featured the unusual combination of passion fruit and avocado. It was an explosive start. The following two courses unraveled a bit, with the soup being good, but way too unrefined for the moment and technically problematic (the crispy shrimp heads), and the fish course bordering on dessert with the sugary carrot purée.

The mole was authentic and delicious, the rib cooked perfectly, but the dish felt a little incomplete. I believe Gregory had the better ideas, but just needed to think them through a bit more.

His sadness after the fact, I can attest, is profound. Tearful. Absolute emptiness. Close to the feeling of the sudden loss of a loved one. This may shock some of you, because it is indeed just a game. The mere thought of feeling that way over such silliness is well, silly. But not for us. This isn't the Super Bowl where an athlete loses and they can shake it off. Jump in their Bentley and start thinking about next season. There is no next season. There is no guaranteed pay day for the runner-up. The ten wins you had before don't matter. It just ends. Suddenly. And it's rather sad.

The good thing is, this is certainly, 100%, not the last time you will hear from Gregory. I waxed last week about Doug's professionalism, all of which is very true. But Gregory... Gregory is a special talent. His food (and I can say HIS type of food, because it's unique to him), is a study in refined, exotic comfort. What the man can do with a one-pot meal of braised anything, some chilies, sugar, vinegar, herbs, and spices is beyond impressive. Rarely do I taste food that makes me jealous as a cook. Rarely do I taste food that makes me start thinking about a new restaurant concept. The word inspiring in cooking competitions is sort of like the word "love," when it gets used too much, it loses it luster. Gregory's food however. I love it. It is inspiring.

Congrats to Mei and Gregory! Tom was right, I can't wait to one day say I saw you two way back when, in Mexico, in a little kitchen, before the bright lights, fancy kitchens, and big stages that lay ahead for both of you.

See you next season. I hope!

Richard Blais
@RichardBlais - Twitter and Instagram

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